Disney enlists Lin-Manuel Miranda for Encanto, an animated family adventure that comes off a bit like In the Heights transplanted to rural Colombia. While this is a film filled with colour and energy, its rather muddled plot and lashings of treacle diminished its impact for me.
Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith share directing credits, with Bush and Smith providing the screenplay. Their script seems like it was made by committee, with lots of disparate ideas vying for space. More tellingly though, the lack of an identifiable “bad guy” makes the story a bit difficult to follow, especially for kids (its key demographic). For adults accompanying them, it’s a bit hard to accept many elements of the story, especially when the best explanation the film can come up with seems to be: “It just is, okay”. And it’s paradoxically sometimes a little too clever for its own good. I’m not sure even the most literate primary-schoolers will get the allusions to Gabriel García Márquez, or many of the script’s myriad in-jokes.
The story centres on the Madrigal family. In a pithy introduction, Abuela Alma (voice of María Cecilia Botero) explains how a miracle many years before led to a magical house springing up to accommodate the family. Each member of the family is blessed with a “gift” bestowed when they are “of age” (around 7). All the family members have a different gift – super strength, healing powers, super hearing (which seems more like a curse to me, but whatever), talking to animals and sprouting flowers spontaneously (Why? Dunno). All that is except Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), which makes her almost pitied by other members of the family.
But Mirabel discovers that some unseen force is threatening the house. It first manifests in cracks in the wall, and Mirabel decides to track down the source of the evil and save the house; and with it, the family. She suspects it might have something to do with Tio Bruno (John Leguizamo). Bruno – whose gift was to see the future – left the house some time ago and hasn’t been seen since.
The timing of Encanto’s release is a little unfortunate. It follows both In the Heights (delayed by the pandemic) and Tick, Tick … Boom! as recent musicals stuffed with Miranda’s songs, although Germaine Franco (Coco) wrote the lush score. The music certainly plays a key role and drives the film forward in several places. But for me, a bit of Miranda fatigue has crept in. I think his particular musical style works better in a stage setting.
Once more though, the animation team have worked their own miracles. The rendering of the house and its surrounds is amazing. I was a little less taken with the way it depicts the people, which is more, well, cartoonish. And the directing team stage some spectacular – almost wondrous – moments. But eventually the threads unravel and the plot becomes a tad incomprehensible. And it tries to divert by resorting to some cheap sentimentality (which, in itself, doesn’t make a lot of sense).
I saw Encanto with an audience including many school-age kids and their parents. While most seemed to enjoy it, their reaction was fairly muted. So even leaving aside some of the script problems, this probably ends up being one of those “good-not-great” movies.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television